PATERSON, NJ – More than 70 percent of Paterson’s public schools lack surveillance cameras and almost 28 percent need improvements to locks on classrooms and offices, according to the last version of the district’s security report.
But the district’s current budget may not have enough money to cover the estimated $2 million for the locks and access control mechanisms that are needed, officials said. Moreover, installing cameras will cost far more than the $2 million and could take years to complete, officials said.
Paterson Public Schools’ facilities director, Chris Sapara-Grant, told the Board of Education Wednesday night during a discussion of security issues that the district is seeking the state’s permission to use money from its maintenance reserve fund to pay for the work on the door locks. He told the board that the state’s approval would expedite the work.
As for the cameras, officials said it was not clear when they would have enough money to install them in every school. At present, 16 of the city’s 54 school buildings have surveillance cameras, according to the district’s updated draft security report. Most of the high schools - including Eastside, Kennedy and Panther - have the cameras, while most of the elementary schools do not, according to the report.
“Each year, as we can, we’re putting cameras in different schools,’’ the district’s security director James Smith told the board.
Over the past month, the district has taken input from staff, parents, community members and students about their suggestions for school security, an effort undertaken in the aftermath of the Newtown, Ct. tragedy.
Deputy Superintendent Eileen Shafer has put together a sweeping list of 127 recommendations from those various groups and within the next month she said she plans to provide the board with a proposal for short-term and long-term changes to the district’s security plan.
Some of the things on the list are already underway, such as the work on the locks and the installation of guardhouses at the entrances to Eastside and Kennedy.
School board president Christopher Irving said that his colleagues ought to conduct a full discussion on whether they want retired police officers who now work on the district’s security staff to carry guns on duty. Those 11 retired officers had been armed in the schools until the late fall, when state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans decided they should no longer have their guns in the buildings.
Irving said he agreed with that decision at the time, but now he felt it ought to be reconsidered. “We can’t run from the fact that at least for some people that is an option,’’ Irving said. “When it comes to the safety of your kids, playing Monday morning quarterback is not fun.’’
The district still pays for 12 off-duty city police officers to provide security and they do carry their guns. All of the armed officers work at city high schools, except one assign to School 15.
“I’m not sure armed guards are going to serve the need,’’ school board member Jonathan Hodges said on Wednesday.
But Smith said the retired police officers already are allowed to carry their guns around-the-clock “except the eight hours they’re in the schools.’’ Smith argued that the officers had extensive training and experience.